Saturday, October 03, 2020

Piracy, the Photographer, and the Photographer's Models

I found Mitchel Gray in the front matter of Men's Health Magazine in 1994. At least, I found his name in very small print, in the credits for the photograph of the cover model. Over the years, he has been my go-to source whenever I have needed a gorgeous, shirtless male for my books' cover art.

This double portrait of an NFL player is an example of Mitchel Gray's artistry from his "Bodies In Motion" series. The most unique feature of this series is that both figures are the same person.

Please note that the image is watermarked in dark red (which is subtle, but "there"). The copyright belongs to Mitchel Gray, the image is shown here with Mitchel Gray's explicit permission. Snag it at your peril.

Print costs vary according to the size of the print, and are available from 11 x14 to 40 x 60
$750 - $4,000.  Licenses for cover art and more would depend on time frame and usage.  To see more, check out

Recently, I asked Mitchel Gray a flurry of copyright infringement related questions.

1) How has piracy affected you?  (Have any of your photographs been snagged from the internet and exploited by someone without permission?  Have you found any of your photographs, without your permission or payment, on any of the sites that sell licences to use images?  Have you found any of your images online with the copyright information cropped out or stripped out?  How does that make you feel? 

Mitchel: Piracy has not impacted me terribly badly, but certainly a few times --as far as I know-- and that’s the problem. I may not be aware of any number of snagged images. I try to watermark any online usage of mine, but that certainly does not exclude being “copied and pasted” directly from my website or elsewhere my pix may appear -- there are some very competent “thieves” out there. I have not found my images on the sites that sell licenses, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there—I can't spend all the time required to search. I have found images online with my credit removed, but that usually occurs when the models post the images—and not that often even then. Sometimes the client will do it. 

It’s very irritating.

My next salvo of questions were:

2) How does a photographer make money?  What does piracy do to your cash flow?  Is it good, free publicity?  Or is it very damaging? 

Mitchel: A few different ways: direct commissions from private clients, Ad agencies booking jobs, or purchasing existing images, magazine editorials, stock photo sales, fine art private and gallery sales, and books, both printed and virtual. Piracy simply deprives the photographer of revenue which ain’t good. But sometimes as you mention, it may be free PR, however that depends who and where they are posted

3) What can you do, if you see copyright infringement of your photographs?  Has this happened to you?  Has the DMCA "takedown" process worked for you?  Have you ever sent a DMCA and been thwarted by a counter notice?  Have you ever sued anyone? 

Mitchel: You can sue the user, or publish a wide ranging post about its misuse naming the user, you can force it to be removed from the site using DMCA. I’ve never been thwarted by any counter notice. However, sometimes there may an issue of interpretation of an agreement. I have sued a few.

4) What goes into taking great photographs that you could sell for cover art for a novel? Location?  Light quality? number of shots?  Amount of time? Do you pay the model?  Airbrushing? 

Mitchel: All the above plus a clear knowledge and discussion of the intent for the look, location, and subject matter from the author or publisher, depending on who is hiring me. And concept, concept, concept!

Asked to explain, Mitchel obliged.

"Concept, concept, concept” refers the idea of the photo—or what am I trying to say in the picture. There are a lot of ways to get your point across and each of them will present a different visual while doing it, and it gets more complex depending on the project—a portrait is different than headshot, a book is different than a magazine editorial, an ad is different than a label on a can, etc. That is one of the joys of the medium.  

 5) How has piracy affected your models?

 Mitchel: In a similar way, but with more potential impact, depending again on the location of the post, who is doing the posting, and on what is the intent the post is- who is it being used for. Also if it is being used in conjunction with other questionable content. It can be very painful, and infuriating

6)  How long can a cover model's career last?

Mitchel: A wide range here. A few years for some, 30+ years for others, all depending on how they adapt - or are allowed to adapt- to the aging process, and the type of publication or a story that will be told. I have one friend who is now 57 and still modeling. Different clientele, different uses.

7) What should an independent author know about buying a photograph for the cover art of an ebook?   What should she expect to pay?  What rights would she get for the money?  What waivers and releases would she need to obtain (and pay for)? 

Mitchel: This is all up for negotiation each time. The price is based on time limits, the expanse of circulation areas, what else she might want to use it for other than the cover, i.e. advertising, promotion, social enhancement, etc. She would need a release from the photographer that states either the areas, or if the shooter is willing, a buyout which is always the most expensive.

8) Where are good, reputable sites for buying licenses for cover art? 

Mitchel: There are the stock photo companies (they are also generally the cheapest which stinks for us), a number of new online sites that offer photo sales, and private individuals. Since the business is now virtually totally digital, one only has to provide digital files and that has fueled in increase in online sites.. I’m sure there a more, but these are the legitimate ones.

9) What other services might photographers offer (if any) in cover art preparation?

Mitchel: So many options- 

1. conceptual sit-downs to lock in on the purpose and market.
2. location search and securing.
3. Hair & Makeup artists and stylists
4. travel arrangements if need be.
5. studio usage and rental
6. lighting approaches
7. digital application and knowledge 
8. editing !!!!!

And a lot more.

10)   Do you have any advice for any amateur photographer who lives in an especially scenic location for monetizing their photographs?

Mitchel:  Yes, shoot a whole lot of images, perfect your editing skills (photoshop, and more), research research research stock houses and stock sites for both legitimacy, style of images, and price points. And keep on shooting! You never know what you might capture that someone may have a use for.  Of course, this pertains mostly to stock sales. Comission shooting is obviously a much different story. In that case you shoot those pictures to get hired, not to sell directly

As an example of what Mitchel did for me, here is the before shot of the rock climbing model who seemed perfect as 'Rhett, hero of Knight's Fork.

And here is how Mitchel cut the ropes and inserted a sword.


To contact Mitchel Gray

Mitchel Gray


Thanks, Mitchel!

All the best,
Rowena Cherry 

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